June 12, 2008
By David Huff
Red Dirt Rangers - Country Fever 2008 - Jun. 12-15
Antithesis of the Ambition-driven Grab for the Stars
Sitting right in the middle of the country, with music from the rest of the nation swirling through it from all sides, Oklahoma has understandably been the source of several influential pop-music movements. Invariably, those styles can be traced not just to a city, but to a specific place within that city – as well as to an act that sums up what it’s all about.
You can begin in the 1920s with the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, who’d become a huge force in the creation of Kansas City jazz, coming out of the downtown Oklahoma City area known as Deep Deuce. Not long afterwards, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys popularized the music now known as western swing from the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa; several decades later that same town’s Leon Russell turned a church into a studio, introducing the Tulsa Sound to rock and roll.
Like the other sounds before them, Red Dirt music grew up in a specific place in a specific town. The town is Stillwater, home of Oklahoma State University. The place was a two-story, five-bedroom, funky old place called the Farm – for two decades the epicenter of what would come to be called the Red Dirt scene.
So what act truly represents Red Dirt music? You couldn’t do any better than the Red Dirt Rangers themselves, who’ve been carrying the banner for this intriguing genre of music since the late 1980s. And years before the band existed, Ben Han, John Cooper, and Brad Piccolo became an integral part of the Farm’s musical brotherhood, trading songs and licks with the likes of Jimmy LaFave, Tom Skinner and Bob Childers – and later with such now white-hot acts as Jason Boland & the Stragglers, Stoney LaRue and Cross Canadian Ragweed
“We would keep on coming in, every weekend, and whoever was playing music at the time, we’d just chime in,” recalls Ranger lead guitar, vocalist Ben Han, whose journey to the Farm began in far-away Borneo. “Living room sessions became jams for beers, and then it was, `Hey! We’ve got something going on.’ We just proceeded with what we had, called a couple of friends, and the next thing you know we’re pickin’ and grinning.”
That casual approach to becoming a band is the very antithesis of the ambition-driven grab for the stars that makes shows like American Idol possible. But the Rangers’ laid-back road-less-traveled style splendidly evokes the musicians who honed their chops in the living room, front porch, garage (a.k.a. “The Gypsy Café”) and campfire-dotted acreage of the Farm, where the sheer joy of creating music with friends transcended everything else. As the Rangers mandolin playing vocalist John Cooper has noted, “The Farm was as much an attitude as a physical structure. It allowed a setting where freedom rang and all things were possible. Out of this setting came the music.”
The physical structure burned down in 2003. But the attitude prevails in not only every Red Dirt Rangers show and song, but also in the acclaimed new disc Ranger Motel – produced by Red Dirt godfather Steve Ripley at Tulsa’s legendary Church Studio – which finds the band consistently conjuring up the spirit of the Farm and Stillwater.
-Record Label: RangerRecords
w/ Randy Crouch, Jimmy Karstein & Don Morris